Welcome to another in the Wirral-related series of articles that we hope you find interesting and enlightening.
Some of you may remember the film ‘Chariots of Fire’? It won the coveted Oscar for Best Picture category in 1981. The film portrayed part of the life story of Eric Liddell, a Scotsman and exceptional athlete who was born in China to missionary parents before they moved back to the UK. You can still often hear Vangelis’s marvellous theme tune to the film played on the radio.
The film shows Eric to be a devout Christian who refuses to compromise his beliefs by running the 100 metres in the 1924 Paris Olympics because it was held on a Sunday. Liddell was the fastest man in the country at the time and a likely winner of the gold medal. He was given instead a place in the 400 metres, which was not his usual distance but would be run on a weekday. He was replaced in the 100 metres by Cambridge graduate Harold Abrahams who eventually took the top spot on the podium.
So what are the Wirral connections with Chariots of Fire? Well of course there’s Lord Birkenhead prominent in the attempt to get Liddell to change his mind about not running on a Sunday, but although his lordship was on the Olympic committee, that part is a bit of Hollywood poetic licence. However, The Oval stadium in Bebington was used as the setting of the Olympic races where Abrahams wins the sprint and the key moment in the film when Liddell, running in the outside lane on a cinder track, goes all out for the finish line, head thrown back and arms flailing in his characteristic style (copied to perfection by actor Ian Charleson) to win the gold and set a new Olympic record.
Eric said of his running style,
‘I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.’
Did you know that you can bring delight to God’s heart?
For Eric there was the sheer excitement of being one of the fastest men on earth at the time, the Usain Bolt of his day; but for him there was more to life than running a race that engaged muscles and sinews and lung-pumping, all-out effort. As he crosses the finish line, the camera pans to show the wistful look on Harold Abrahams’ face, as if he saw something in Eric Liddell that he knew he didn’t have.
At another point in the film, Eric gives expression to that ‘something’:
‘So where does the power to run come from, to see the race though to its end? It comes from within.’
A power within: this is what God promises to all who put their trust in Jesus: ‘He who has the Son has life – life that will never end!’
Eric Liddell turned his back on the fame and celebrity status a year later for a life of service as a missionary teacher in an obscure place, a life that would ultimately end in a Japanese internment camp.
Another link with Wirral comes in here: he was ‘uncle Eric’ to many schoolchildren who were also interned in that camp, and to turn their eyes and ears away from the brutal conditions they were experiencing, he organised lots of sporting activities for them. To one young person he gave his prized running shoes, and after the War that person lived on the Wirral; but Eric’s life ended in the internment camp in 1945, where he died of a brain tumour.
That ‘something’, or rather Someone who provided the inspiration of Liddell’s life before and after the Olympics was Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and whom God raised from the dead. Eventually Jesus led Eric to return to China to take that Message of God’s salvation to the people there.
I wonder if you’ve heard that News? That God loved the people of this world so much He sent His only Son Jesus Christ to save us, so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Jesus rescued us by handing His own pure and spotless life over to death in our place; the Good for the bad, the innocent One for the guilty, and when we come to Him sorry for our wrongdoing, God accepts us because Jesus has already paid the price of our sin.
He could have saved Himself from death but He chose not to.
Jesus was willing to go to the Cross at supreme cost to himself because of His love for you!
If you are willing to hand over your life to Jesus and receive Him as your Lord and Saviour (Rescuer), He will forgive your sins and flood your heart with His love and give you the same new life that motivated Eric Liddell.
You might never run as fast as he did, but your life will have purpose and meaning beyond your wildest dreams when the Holy Spirit comes to live within you.
If you follow this link there’s a simple prayer you can pray to God who hears the whispers of our hearts.